Wednesday, 21 July 2010

MacAskill accuses his critics of hypocrisy

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Herald. It reads as follows:]

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill yesterday accused UK governments both past and present of hypocrisy after high-level condemnation of his decision to allow the man convicted of Lockerbie bombing to return home to die.

MacAskill said he would not apologise for freeing Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, despite the fact that he has long outlived the medical opinion that he had only three months to live at the time of his release 11 months ago.

In an interview in yesterday’s Herald, David Milband, the former Foreign Secretary, said the decision to free Megrahi was wrong.

Responding, MacAskill stood by his decision to sanction the return of Megrahi to Tripoli on compassionate grounds, stressing that the Scottish Government was the sole opponent of the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) between the UK and Libya.

The PTA followed the Deal in the Desert struck between Colonel Gaddafi and Tony Blair, which paved the way for BP to invest £450 million in exploring Libya’s vast oil reserves.

MacAskill said yesterday that Miliband was part of that government and should explain the details of the PTA to US senators, adding that the PTA was opposed by neither David Cameron nor William Hague at the time. He added: “I think there is a great deal of hypocrisy. If they are so opposed [to Megrahi’s release], why didn’t they oppose the PTA? At the end of the day, the only people to oppose the PTA was the Scottish Government. I don’t recall William Hague condemning the PTA.”

BP has admitted lobbying the British government in 2007 over a PTA with Libya, but denied specifically discussing Megrahi.

MacAskill said: “There are considerable questions that American senators are entitled to ask the UK Government but I can give every body a complete assurance that oil had never been a factor in my decision.

“There was before me an application for compassionate release to allow him to go home. We balance justice with mercy in this country.”

The Justice Secretary said he would be happy to assist US investigators if requested, but added that it was down to David Miliband and his colleagues to set out what they were doing “cavorting with Gaddafi.”

“There are questions about BP and the US Government. They are questions that I can’t answer. They are questions that David Miliband can answer.”

[An opinion piece by Brian Currie in the same newspaper headed "Just what don’t they get about devolution?" reads in part:]

What is it about devolution that Westminster politicians don’t understand?

After 11 years, it should be reasonable to assume even the most small-minded Little Englanders would know Scotland can make big decisions on its own.

But the message hasn’t penetrated some of the more obdurate minds of their Scottish colleagues in the Commons.

Comments by the hitherto unknown backbencher Daniel Kawczynski on the decision to release the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing suggest that the Scottish justice system and those in charge of it are somehow answerable to Westminster. Kawczynski was educated at Stirling University but perhaps he doesn’t realise the extent of the Scottish Government’s authority and maybe he is unaware that Scotland has its own judicial system.

But as chair of Westminster’s all-party committee on Libya he should know there have been two inquiries into the decision by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

A Scottish Parliament inquiry and another by Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Select Committee were clear in their conclusions, yet Kawczynski has written to David Cameron asking for Scottish Ministers to be held to account. Since Cameron can’t do this, perhaps he’s just trying to catch the PM’s eye in the hope of promotion.

It seems odd that a man who called for Megrahi to be used as a foreign policy bargaining chip chairs a committee whose aim is to promote and understand the culture, history and politics of Libya and engage in relations between that country’s legislature and the UK’s.

Some leeway, but not much, can be granted to the US Senators holding a hearing into whether there was a link between Megrahi’s release and BP oil deals. But they, too, should be better informed about what devolution means. America is a federal country and different states have different powers, the ultimate being the death penalty.

The Senators should surely grasp the concept of devolved powers and be able to distinguish between Prisoner Transfer Agreements between Westminster and Libya and the compassionate grounds on which the Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary based his decision. (...)

More than 50 US companies are reported to have signed contracts with Libya compared to four from the UK and the smell coming from the States isn’t just oil pollution – it’s the reek of hypocrisy.

It is also faintly nauseating to see the Prime Minister, his Foreign Secretary and Labour leadership favourite David Miliband queue up to blame MacAskill for releasing Megrahi. Would the decision have been different had it been made in Whitehall or would the interests of big business and the economy have resulted in the same outcome?

MacAskill had an enormous decision to make when considering whether to free the man convicted of murdering 270 people and the debate over whether he got it right or wrong remains the focus of controversy. In all the debate it seems to have been forgotten that people suffering from cancer are not given a set date on which to die and MacAskill acted only after considering the medical evidence that Megrahi had around three months to live.

Most importantly, however, the decision was taken in Scotland by a Scottish Government Minister and whether they sit in the US Senate or in the Commons, politicians should respect that because that is devolution in action. In this area Scotland is subservient to no-one.

[A Reuters news agency report contains the following comments from Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond:]

"We had no contact with BP either written or verbal or any lobbying of that kind as far as the process of compassionate release was concerned," Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond told BBC Radio 4. (...)

Salmond, who leads the pro-independence Scottish National Party and heads a minority government in Scotland's dissolved assembly, defended the decision to release Megrahi.

"You can only take a decision based on information at the time. It is not unheard of for people released on compassionate grounds to live longer than the estimated three months."

Salmond criticized former Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying he was negotiating on prisoner exchanges with Libya at the same time as discussing business deals in 2007 in what the Scottish leader called a "tainted process."

"I think it was deeply unfortunate that you should negotiate a prisoner transfer agreement on a judicial matter on the same day that you sign an agreement on oil exploration and concessions," Salmond said.

"But that's what the then Prime Minister Tony Blair did in June 2007." Blair visited Libya in late May 2007, a few weeks before he stood down as prime minister to be replaced by party colleague Gordon Brown. (...)

The agreement took effect in April 2009 but the Scottish authorities did not use it when releasing Megrahi, a fact that Salmond said proved there was no conspiracy.

"A lot of people would have wanted the Scottish government to invoke the Prisoner Transfer Agreement. If we had done then the U.S. Senators who are arguing for this conspiracy on economic and oil concessions would have something to go on," Salmond said.

[A similar report on The Scotsman website can be read here.]

No comments:

Post a Comment